Looking after our furloughed colleagues

Journey HR's Sue Shaw looks at how to engage all of your colleagues and employees, furloughed or otherwise, during the Coronavirus crisis.

How can we keep in touch with any colleagues and friends that have been furloughed during this difficult time? Journey HR's Sue Shaw looks at how to engage all of your colleagues and employees during the Coronavirus crisis.

On 26 March, the term furlough went from being a rarely used word to one everyone is talking about. On that date, the UK Government took the unprecedented step of launching a dedicated furlough scheme that aims to protect jobs in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

While furlough isn’t an ideal solution for every business, it is one that can help companies to keep hold of their key staff and survive this difficult time.

What is furlough leave?

Furlough leave was introduced by the Government as a specific job retention measure in response to the coronavirus crisis. It’s intended to protect employees who may otherwise be made redundant due to the outbreak by preserving their employment while the Government pays a portion of their salary.

In the simplest terms, furloughed employees remain employed legally and will receive 80% of their regular monthly wages, capped at £2,500 per month. Whilst on furlough, people are not allowed to provide services or generate revenue on behalf of their current employer they can, however, volunteer, perform other work, and attend training courses during this time.

By putting certain members of staff onto furlough, companies can reduce costs, keep operating, and hopefully come out the other side with jobs for those employees to return to.

Keep your employees engaged 

Employees who have been furloughed may find it difficult to accept as it can create a feeling of helplessness. Being on furlough is not the same as being on holiday; being prevented from working can be isolating and can be especially hard for employees who love their work. These employees may not be looking forward to furlough, so unless it is managed correctly, there could be serious implications for their mental health.

Conversely, employees who remain in the business may initially feel relieved to have avoided going on furlough - but may soon realise of the burden of helping the company through this difficult time. Not only will there be the stress of serving more clients with fewer people, but there is also the anxiety of helping to keep the business trading through this rocky period. For some agencies, a ‘rotation model’ may be a good solution here: employees can be placed on furlough multiple times for a minimum of three weeks, so it may be that sharing out the reduced workload by rotating people on and off of furlough, if they carry out similar roles, is a way to keep people’s total time away from the business at a minimum.

Regardless of who carries on working and who is furloughed, it’s important for everyone in the organisation to stay engaged and committed to the agency and be ready to get back to work once this crisis is over. In order to achieve this goal, companies should focus on boosting employee engagement by:

1. Resetting expectations

With this 'new normal', businesses and the staff will need to adjust their expectations. This is not only vital for achieving the best results for clients, but also for protecting employees’ mental health. After all, staff will be dealing with more clients and also working from home, so managers may need to rethink deadlines and set realistic goals so that employees don’t get overwhelmed.

Furloughed employees will also need to reset their expectations around work. Even though these workers cannot perform any work for the company, furlough can be a great opportunity for self-development and training. There are various free courses available for this purpose, including IPA courses, Google Analytics Academy, and LinkedIn learning courses.

2. Communicating clearly and consistently

Communication is a vital part of effective employee engagement. Throughout this crisis, employers need to provide clear, continuous, and empathetic communication. All comms should be considerate and transparent, to all staff, whether they are furloughed or not.

Just because an employee has been furloughed does not mean they can’t be kept in the loop with the goings on in the agency, nor cut off from the (virtual) social events. Everyone needs support during these tumultuous times, so we think it’s important to encourage all employees to catch up over drinks on a video call, for example.

In addition to this, we recommend that businesses check in with all employees on a regular (personal rather than work-related) basis. Some may be surrounded by family and appreciate a quick hello from their team, whereas others could be in a flat alone. For these workers, a quick catch up could be exactly what they need to keep them feeling upbeat and motivated.

3. Staying positive

Fear freezes initiative and ties up creativity so now is the time to lead with optimism and hope in the future, and to help your employees find meaning and purpose in their work.

This optimism should be the same for all employees – whether they have been furloughed or not. All staff should be reminded of the company vision and values they’ve committed to, as well as the reasons they were hired and why the business wants them back once furlough is over. This way, all employees will see exactly how much the company values them.

An agency is only as good as its people, and while businesses may not be able to have their entire staff working right now, they can take action now to make sure that everyone feels excited to come back to work once this is all over.

Sue Shaw is a Founding Partner at Journey HR and regular IPA CPD Gold Judge. 

Guide to CPD Gold Accreditation.


Last updated 21 January 2022